A major report on the Physician-Scientist Workforce was presented and discussed at the most recent Advisory Council to the Director (ACD) meeting. It was a highly anticipated follow-up to the Biomedical Workforce report from a couple years earlier. I want to follow-up my earlier post with a closer look at some key points presented by the Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) working group. The PSW working group was asked to analyze the physician-scientist biomedical workforce, which is defined as scientists with professional degrees who have training in clinical care, and who are engaged in independent biomedical research – for example. MDs, MD-PhDs, nurse-scientists, dentist-scientists and vet-scientists. The working group was also asked to make recommendations for physician-scientist research training.
One major finding was that the number of physicians entering the research workforce remains virtually unchanged over the last decade, even though the total number of physicians increases. This means that physician-scientists make up an even smaller proportion of the medical doctors today, compared to a decade ago.
Another interesting finding is that – similar to the overall biomedical research workforce – the physician-scientist workforce is aging. The figure below shows 2003 and 2012 data on the age distribution of NIH Research Project Grant (RPG) awardees with MDs or MD/PhD degrees, and demonstrates the age shift of the NIH-supported physician-scientist workforce. You can see that in 2003 the majority of NIH’s physician-scientists were under 50, but in 2012 the age distribution has shifted to the right, such that a little over 50% of NIH’s physician-scientist PIs are age 51 and over.
These two graphs from the PSW report show 1996 to 2012 data on the number of NIH research project grant awardees with either MD degrees (Figure 3.8) or MD and PhD degrees (Figure 3.9). Again, these data show the age shift of the workforce occurs for both MDs and MD/PhDs – the numbers of awardees in the youngest two cohorts have declined, while those in the 51- 60 and 61-70 cohorts have increased.
These data, coupled with the data showing the declining proportion of physician-scientists, suggest that – as this trend continues and today’s physician-scientists exit the workforce – there won’t be replacements at the rate needed to sustain a robust physician-scientist workforce.
Therefore, the working group developed recommendations to address this dilemma, and provide incentives to encourage physicians to join and sustain them in the research workforce. These recommendations – which you can read about in the final report – will be taken into consideration by NIH. The data above are just a tiny fraction of the bounty of interesting data produced by the Physician-Scientist Workforce working group and included in the report, so I encourage you to take a look. Also, check back in a few weeks when we will upload the raw data and graphs from the PSW working group to RePORT including breakouts of data on all types of physician-scientists, including nurse-scientists, dentist-scientists and vet-scientists. NIH will be discussing approaches to fostering the physician scientist workforce, so stay tuned for updates.